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Friday, Oct 19, 2018
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Fennelly: Our bowl is the bloomin’ best at being benign

TAMPA — You know you’re at a bowl game when you enter the stadium and there are hundreds of school girls in brightly colored T-shirts practicing dancing to a Beach Boys song.

Let’s see that happen in North Korea.

You know you’re at our bowl game, the Outback Bowl, when the coin toss is watched by a man dressed as an enormous bloomin’ onion.

The main course, Michigan and South Carolina, did its best on a cold, cloudy afternoon at Raymond James Stadium. At halftime, with Michigan up 9-3, we took a secret vote to pick our favorite field goal. But we eventually were treated to a 26-19 comeback win from South Carolina and head coach Will Muschamp.

On the field at halftime, a giant pair of khaki pants was unfurled in honor of Michigan headmaster Jim Harbaugh. Then South Carolina’s band marked the fifth anniversary of Jadeveon Clowney’s monster hit on Michigan in the 2013 Outback. The South Carolina trombone section, playing the part of the Michigan guy’s helmet that went flying that day, raced from the stadium. It was last seen in Hernando County.

None of those things actually happened.

Just the usual harmless, meaningless Outback fun. When people tell me there are too many bowl games, I beg to disagree, right after I finish my steak.

If people can stand in Times Square in sub-freezing cold to watch a ball drop, then what is so wrong with two mediocre football teams, with one great fight song between them, hooking up before a half-empty stadium of fans?

More people will show up at Jon Gruden’s news conference in Oakland. Who cares? This was a great matchup. I know this was a great matchup because I was constantly reminded of that by one of my favorite people in Tampa Bay sports, Outback CEO and president Jim McVay. "This is a great matchup" McVay told me. A lot. I only wish McVay could go back in time to work Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland 0.

"Hey, those Cumberland kids will put a hat on you."

What’s wrong with the Outback Bowl? It sure beat heading to the Bucs on Monday to hear how the five-win wonders aren’t going to make any major staff changes. Hey, why mess with perfection?

Michigan wasn’t perfect. I had no idea what Harbaugh was thinking with his playing calling late in the game. If I was an NFL team, I know what I’d be thinking:

Hired!

South Carolina wasn’t perfect. It fell behind 19-3 before storming back on turnovers and the play of quarterback Jake Bentley, who threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns and was named game MVP.

The Outback isn’t perfect. It could stand a rotation, the kind that could maybe bring Notre Dame here every 10 years, or at least some different teams, like Nebraska. We’d see Scott Frost again!

Monday’s Outback was no Birmingham Bowl. There were no USF dramatics. But it sure beat Florida’s bowl game. If the College Football Playoff ever expands, and it will as sure as the universe does, the Outback Bowl should be part of it. A quarterfinal. Or the round of 16. Or opening week for the field of 64. The Outback could be Dayton — a pair of doubleheaders. The Outback is up for it.

Best of all, there is no postgame news conference in America that can top the Outback Bowl postgame news conference. It’s one crazy scene — Outback guys, their wives, their kids, everybody. But absolutely no pets allowed. Both Muschamp and Harbaugh were thanked for the game and in turn thanked their hosts for a great week.

Muschamp celebrated the win by jumping in the arms of Gamecocks senior defensive lineman Dante Sawyer. Don’t tell me bowl games don’t matter. Harbaugh played sourball when asked about the NFL and if this was his final game at Michigan.

"No," he answered.

Meanwhile, I saw McVay after the game.

"Two great teams just slugging it out. Great for everybody," he said.

I also spoke with the guy who played the bloomin’ onion. He said that the only problem is that the costume is a tight fit in small places, but that he managed. Only in America. Only at the Outback Bowl. There was no Clowney moment, but, as usual, the Outback managed. Don’t ever tell me there are too many bowl games.

Did I mention that it was a great matchup?

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